Monday, February 23, 2015


Whenever it gets super snowy and chilly as it has recently I think of DREAMCATCHER (2003), the unreasonably maligned gonzo sci-fi disasterpiece from the collected pens of Stephen King, William 'Adventures in the Screen Trade' Goldman and Lawrence 'BIG CHILL' Kasdan. Sure it's not great, maybe it's not even very good, but it's got a lunatic recklessness that transcends so many traditional horror and science fiction cliches I can forgive it near about anything, and that's what the 10 REASONS series is all about. It may miss the ball a few times, its CGI may at time touch 80s video game pixelation, but at least its swinging for the parking lot instead of just trying to bunt its way out of the dugout.

For an example of contrast, right now for example I'm half-watching THE GIVER (2014), a movie so hungry for a piece of the current teen dystopia market it may as well have been written by a computer that was fed every sci-fi teen-targeted movie and book of the last 20 years. I wanted to see it to continue my teen dystopia thread from a few months ago and see what kind of magic Jeff Bridges could whip up out of such hack ingredients, but it's so glaringly simplistic I feel cheap just for having it on in the background. And so I exhumed this piece from my drafts folder instead, for there's no doubt that DREAMCATCHER is written by humans.... who freely aim not for the teens, or the adults, but middle-aged stoners in the middle of their fourth midlife crisis. How can I, fitting that bill, not salute such far-out willingness to ride the courage of its own batshit crazy convictions?

1. ESP altruism in children - The boys get their talents by first rescuing a bullied 'special needs' human named Duddy who shares his unique ESP power with them, and together they use their powers to locate a missing girl. The dreamcatcher isn't a Kruger-style truant officer or some tacky South Dakota souvenir but a visualization of the web that connects them. Each of the boys develop a psychic special power and remain connected by the threads of their psychic energy, which gives them a collective courage as well as abilities to find lost girls. I felt my heart soar when the littlest kid in the bunch picks up a rock and says hell yeah I want to fight, even if the bullies are way bigger. It doesn't matter - seeing their leader torturing poor Duddy behind the woodshed makes the little kid furious. He picks up two rocks and is ready to go down swinging because he's sickened by their sadism. This group of good kids are so badass they promise to run home and tell one of their gossipy moms if the boys don't stop. No hesitation about ratting the bullies out, never considering making it a playground thing rather than a genuine offense. I subscribe to the adage in Over the Edge that a kid who tells on another a kid is a dead kid, but assault perpetrated by a bunch of big kids on a small special-needs kid is a different than ratting out your dealer to get off on possession charge. 

Most these sorts of films, Stand by Me and so forth, are about growing up as "normal" outcast kids, i.e. types--the one fat dork, the thin little nerd, the older hunk with a drunk single dad, the token black kid with no real personality other than being black, etc.--all harassed by bigger evil sadistic bullies (King must have been bullied as a kid as there's bullies in nearly every book her writes. But the four dudes we see in Dreamcatcher flashbacks to their formative elementary collective ESP Dead Zone moments, are genuine badasses, not normal 'types' at all, and so don't have to put on familiar outcast cliche masks. We see through them how sticking up for someone weaker can give you lion's courage, the sort unavailable for ordinary self-defense, and the result is world's away from most of the rote bullying we see in other King adaptations). I don't mind if the film is exploring very familiar Stephen King territory (the ESP or psychokinesis of The Shining, Carrie, FirestarterThe Dead Zone etc.), cuz it's also Hawksian!

2. Donnie Wahlberg as the magical mentally challenged / psychically savant Duddy - Unlike so many other magic mentally-challenged kids, Duddy is never depicted as 'backwards' so much as 'sidewards,' i.e. once you 'speak' his language you realize he's a genius. And I know how firsthand how such kids can trigger psychic awakenings, because one happened to me with this kid, Victor. Cuz I was high on acid at the time I met him, I got what he was trying to say and he got all excited because most strangers couldn't understand his garbled syntaxes, but I could --in my LSD-opened state. He'd be in paroxysms of happiness that someone understood him, and in return he cast some weird mystic spell on me - where I knew as long as I avoided negative thoughts and my first thought each morning was positive I would exist in this state of transcendent bliss. (One morning I woke up with a cold and my first though was "I feel sick," and thus the streak--which had lasted three weeks!--was over). 

Donnie W.  really disappears into the role giving Duddy a comprehensiveness as a character that's worlds away from "Gotta watch Wopner" or "Life's a box of chocolates." idiot savants of other, better-reviewed movies. Figures he wouldn't be recognized for it - such unshowy genius seldom is.

3. Goofball Resolve - the whole thing with Lewis inside his inner filing room shouting out the window as the alien who possessed him sets about eating people isn't going to please anyone. Some people might call that a way too literal reading, but I say hey, this film is going for distance (1), and it doesn't care if you think it's dumb. A lot of horror movies work better in an audience, but I can imagine seeing Dreamcatcher with the BAM crowd being a pretty miserable experience as all the exasperated sighs and confusion take hold. But without snarky critics in the room, and no drive time outlay, its weirdness can stretch its legs, unperturbed by things like second thoughts. Commercial breaks probably help, too. 

4. The film starts in the middle of a covert alien war, sparing us all the doubt on the part of the military's willingness to accept what's going on. And I dig the alien invasion in the snow motif, which recalls Hitler's big Battle of the Bulge campaign, i.e. wait until it gets super snowy to make your move, thus catching them all unawares.

5. It's like reading a real Stephen King novel:  

With twists and turns and each character doing their thing, and encountering a military presence in the midst of another skirmish, lots of snow and New England charm, all very Kingly. And rather than constant crosscutting it plays little mini-chapters between characters. It takes it's time and spreads itself over two hours and fifteen minutes, which since it's on streaming is just fine as it can be watched like a Stephen King novel... in chunks where you occasionally put it down, but it keeps you reading because you have no idea where it's going next except deep into the blood-strewn snow of King's New England. Like most of his fiction it might be a little overwrought at times, and it may not have a strong ending, but more than any of his other filmed works, DREAMCATCHER really captures the internal monologue conversations, pop culture references, prosaic four letter New England cut-the-crap-itude, and the pressure cooker fear generation so intrinsic to his enduring popularity.

6. The aliens can do just about anything. They look like Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors on crystal meth when they're not in The Thing x Invasion of the Body Snatchers disguise. Plus, they are not without a self-aware sense of mordant humor, talking in a clipped posh accent, like they're the bad guy in a James Bond film. What an odd choice! And they can come right up your ass or down your throat like a combination tape worm / moray eel / ALIEN face hugger, and plant not just one little monster egg, but a writhing legion, inside you.

7. Lawrence Kasdan bringing wily, witty profane 'Big Chill'-ish dialogue and black humor to a zippy script. 

8. Duddy's mom: 

Rosemary Dunsmore creates a nice aura of loving gravity and courage around her son in her one big scene. She knows her son is dying and that he might be dead by the end of the weekend, but she's aware that he's called upon in service of something higher, even if she can't quite understand what that is."Okay, go save the world," she says as they mount their stolen military black Humvee. How rare is it that a mom can be so chill about sending her critically ill, special-needs son off into the freezing cold to battle some abstract alien menace on what will certainly be a one way trip? Kasdan and King are fans of horror and know just when to have characters step up to the Hawksian heroics plate even if it flies in the face of Hollywood's treasured 'logic of the heart' and all its tedious inside-the-box sanctity. Mrs. Duddy knows this is a boy's movie, so don't bother trying for BSAO, just stand the fuck back and let the kids play through. It's the most heroic gesture in a movie full of them and it gets me crying every time, cuz it's fucking true - every moment of it, every foot of their house, down to the dusty board games in the closet.

9. The great cast also includes: Jason MALLRATS Lee; Timothy THE CRAZIES Olyphant; Thomas THE MIST Jane; Donnie SIXTH SENSE Wahlberg; Damian HOMELAND Lewis; Tom THE RELIC Sizemore (his grudging acceptance of Jane's psychic outlandish mission is the most incredulous part in the film and Sizemore pulls it off) and frickin....

10. the Zu Warrior eyebrows of Morgan "Passin' Water" FreemanThere's usually a sense that either the military is good or bad depending on the political orientation of a film, but here they are both good and bad (ala THE CRAZIES) and the natural likable gravitas of Morgan Freeman is cast against type as a man who's been dealing with these aliens for the last 25 years and is thinking globally to the detriment of the infected locals, all of whom he wants to kill off to be sure the disease doesn't spread (not an injudicious thing to do, as Caspar Gutman would say).  His less draconian superior is called in and so there's two military factions --one good and maybe wrong --and one bad but maybe right. There's a great moment when the aliens are acting all childlike and innocent with their hands raised psychically talking to the soldiers in childlike voices and Freeman's like doooon't trust them. He might be wrong but he's so very right, just like DREAMCATCHER itself!

Last but not least is the groovy snow blanket over the whole film. creating just the right mood of preternatural stillness. Add it all together and you have a flawed gonzo classic I enjoy a lot more than the critically acclaimed 'kids together experiencing weird small town events' King adaptations like STAND BY ME. Capturing the loopy flashback-laden, middle-of-the-action, slow boat-to-nowhere structure of one of King's novels, there's a weird and wondrous cast and a plot that, like other 'Ten Reason' entries THE THING (2011), GHOSTS OF MARS (2000), and DOOMSDAY (2008) ping-pongs past so many genre cliche bumpers it becomes a whole new kind of lunatic pastiche perfection... so 'catch' it!

1. "Going for Distance":  a common drunken Syracuse treehouse expression from 1987-91, i.e. to puke as far away from oneself as possible, while standing, head held high, rather than bent over a toilet like some common scrubwoman - but then also extending to mean not holding back in general, burning up all your stashes and telling your old lady to go home and go to bed because you're staying up all night, all the next day, and forever, until -'poof' magically you wake up on some floor or couch somewhere. An example of going for distance might be Lennon and Nilsson's "Lost Weekend" 


  1. The LIFEFORCE of the Millennium Age.

    1. It's almost 2023 and I found this comment funny, accurate and relevant as I am watching Dreamcatcher on Tubi after having watched Lifeforce last night. We are all connected.

  2. Totally! that should be my next 10 Reasons - Just saw it again and it gets better every time - I have a total man crush on Michael Gothard (and of course, like every other boy from the 80s, Mathilda May).

  3. The movie is creepy but I really liked it. If you enjoyed this one, I recommend Ouija Experiment It doesn't have aliens though. It would JUST make you wonder if it’s real or just a game.

  4. How about Dungeons & Dragons (2000) for a 10 Reasons? Thanks for defending this movie BTW, one of my favorites of all time. Extremely creative and well acted and great mix of comedy and horror. :)

  5. PS - I did a 10 Reasons for LIFEFORCE and forgot to mention it -


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